- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2006

In his campaign for governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine promised that his personal opposition to the death penalty would not prevent him from upholding the state’s capital-punishment laws. The first test came this week when death-row inmate Dexter Lee Vinson asked for the governor’s clemency. Mr. Kaine declined; the convicted murderer was executed Thursday night.

Mr. Kaine is to be commended for keeping his promise. Although pro-death penalty opinion in Virginia may have lessened somewhat in recent years, clear majorities uphold a statewide consensus in favor of the death penalty. The state can be reasonably called a stronghold of pro-death-penalty opinion. Even the polls touted by the state’s death-penalty opponents register about 70 percent in favor. The record, too, could scarcely be clearer: Virginia ranks second only to Texas in the numbers executed since capital punishment’s reinstatement in 1976 (95 in Virginia, 362 in Texas).

It probably helped Mr. Kaine that the grisly murder was well deserving of capital punishment. Vinson, 43, was convicted of the May 19, 1997 killing of ex-girlfriend Angela Fenton, a 25-year-old mother of three young children from Portsmouth. Mrs. Fenton was abducted, choked with a rope, stabbed and sexually mutilated in an abandoned house. She bled to death.

Vinson and his lawyers maintained his innocence, but the evidence — which included handprints found at the scene of the crime and Mrs. Fenton’s blood on Vinson’s clothing — was convincing enough for Mr. Kaine to find “no compelling reasons to doubt Mr. Vinson’s guilt or to invalidate the sentence recommended by the jury and imposed, and affirmed, by the courts.”

No doubt the case must have posed a moral dilemma for Mr. Kaine. He has a track record dating to the 1980s as a public opponent of the death penalty and frequently speaks his Catholic conscience on the subject. It happens that religious opposition is probably the only justification Virginians could accept for a governor’s opposition, but there are few reasons to doubt him. Last week a representative from the Vatican and two Catholic bishops urged Mr. Kaine to stay the execution. Fate could scarcely have devised a starker conflict.

For all our disagreements with Mr. Kaine, we commend him this week for making good on a promise to Virginians not to impose his personal beliefs when they conflict with those of a sizeable majority’s and the clear death-penalty consensus they support.

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